New approaches to intercultural communication

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2011, April). New approaches to intercultural communication. Published at http://tinyurl.com/3f483kd LinkedIn Forum on Competence in Intercultural Professions, available at https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/new-approaches-to-intercultural-communication/

I hope I am not straying from the main question in this thread by engaging in the conversation with the following comments. It seems to me that some contributors, including myself, feel strongly about the need for new tools for understanding intercultural dynamics. I believe that intercultural trainers may be more restricted than scholars in their scope and choice of theoretical approaches, in that they are called upon to “deliver results.” Such scenario may justify the adoption of a somewhat “rigid” intercultural communication measurement tools that are based on widespread reductionist and essentialist views of cultures. Nevertheless, I believe that much of the classification in use may have been made obsolete by the development of globalism and complex globalization processes, as Bernard Saint-Jacques states in an article of recent publication that he mentioned above. Saint-Jacques, B. (2011). Worldview in Intercultural Communication: A Religio-Cosmological Approach. In L. Samovar, R. Porter, E. McDaniel, (Eds.), Intercultural Communication. A Reader (pp. 45-56). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

I’d like to use his article as a reference for further discussion, for which I have adapted some of the conclusions about a research carried out in 2010. The full text of the paper is available at http://tinyurl.com/24sfh6m

The preceding posts cover a broad range of topics, including issues of identity, intercultural adaptation, theoretical approaches to intercultural communication, new ways of approaching cultural definitions and categorizations, and how that may change the way cultures are presented and studied. Let me get started.

ACCULTURATION AND LEARNING

Bernard writes: “Following several authors, Waldram (2009) argues that the concept of acculturation has outlived whatever usefulness it may have had, and that scholars should focus on the process of enculturation, or culture learning.”

I agree. I believe we need to consider transformative learning approaches as those presented by Mezirow (1991). The language used by Merizow provides a much needed syntax for the needs of current and future Intercultural Communication research and praxis.

I believe that intercultural processes may progress beyond the confinements of mere adaptation to a majority culture and reach “a generative stage in which entirely new forms of culture are creatively produced” (Evanoff, 2001). Mezirow’s (1991) Transformative Learning Theory supports this evolutionary view of multicultural identity formation in that it postulates emancipatory change through individual transformation. His theory confronts and challenges the taken-for-granted norms, leading to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s (intercultural sojourner) way of viewing the world. According to Mezirow, at the core of transformational learning lies individual learners’ ability to construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experience. The emphasis is on ‘perspective transformation’ as a means to promote personal growth and, eventually, the emergence of a new society. In her analysis of transformational learning, Lena Wilhelmson (2002) also concurs that “perspective transformation leads to a revised frame of reference, and a willingness to act on the new perspective”. I believe that such approach would inject new inputs and a fresh perspective into the understanding of intercultural dynamics. Such transformational learning approaches cultural assumptions through cognitive reflection, which would lead “to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world . . . [by] bringing of one’s assumptions, premises, criteria, and schemata into consciousness and vigorously critiquing them” (Fenwick, 2001). As Bernard Saint-Jacques says in his article, this would be made possible “through questioning, debates, discussions, reflective writing about one single cultural aspect, thus allowing the person to reflect about her or his own perception about one cultural aspect, often linked to other aspects of the culture.”

RELATIONAL VIEW OF IN-FLUX CULTURE AND IDENTITY

My approach to intercultural communication concurs with Bernard’s and with Aneas and Sandin’s (2009), who also reject the idea of culture as a “collection of fortuitous traits,” (Par.57) and emphasize the relational, ever-changing character of culture.

The findings of my research indicate that culture is not the sum of specific traditional traits, but the result of relational dynamics. They also show that the lived experience of intercultural sojourners cannot be easily generalized, which would indicate that a mechanistic taxonomy is insufficient to define multicultural identity development processes. In times characterized by a global Diaspora, there is a need for a new way of contracting one’s own cultural identity beyond essentialist limitations and monocultural allegiances.

As in Bernard’s article (“Identity, particularly in the age of globalization, is never a fixed reality, a pre-given identification; it is a dynamic and evolving reality.”), my study also shows that multicultural identity derives from the idea of the self as an ever-changing concept that varies based on the relational context people are in, and develops out of the exploration of multiple meanings. Intercultural identity is therefore in flux (Aneas & Sandin, 2009; Martin & Nakayama, 1999; Peter Adler, 1977; Kim 1994), and changes depending on and through the nature of intercultural relationships. This is particularly important for those who do not clearly fit the mold of a single culture, but instead see themselves as the product of several cultural influences.

FUTURE OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION

With regard to the future of intercultural research, I believe it would be important to break away from unidirectional approaches that focus on an individual’s adaptation to a specific new cultural context but fail to consider relevant transformative processes within the host cultures (Evanoff, 2006). Future research should recognize the complexity of processes of intercultural adaptation by including relationships of “third-culture building” (Casmir, 1999), an approach that considers cultural identity not as the result of “fixed trajectories but in dynamic, interactional, and complex patterns” (Roth, 2003, par. 82).  Such broader dialogical approach could include an investigation of glocal dialogue (Matoba, 2003) as a practical application of intercultural communication. A better understanding of dialogue might in fact help people break out of essentialist cultural mindsets and explore a wider range of possibilities for our global society. In turn, this would also improve opportunities for effective co-operation on many common issues (Evanoff 2001).

My question now is on how we can move closer to a systems-oriented view of intercultural communication and avoid the trap of falling into using established essentialist notions and standardized cultural classification. What are the tools available to us for “making sense” of intercultural dynamics within the complexity of globalization trends? Is Bohm’s idea of Dialogue a viable alternative?

Adler, P. S. (1977). Beyond cultural identity: Reflections upon cultural and multicultural man. In R.W. Brislin (Ed.), Topics in Culture Learning, 2, 23-40 Honolulu, HI: East-West Center. Retrieved on July 7, 2002 at http://www.mediate.com/articles/adler3.cfm.

Aneas, M. A., & Sandín, M. P. (2009). Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication Research: Some Reflections about Culture and Qualitative Methods. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901519 Accessed on Dec.10, 2009 at http://www.qualitativeresearch. net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1251.

Casmir, F. L. (1999). Foundations for the study of intercultural communication based on a third-culture building model. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23(1), 91-116.

Evanoff, R. (2006). Integration in intercultural ethics. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 30, 421–437.

Evanoff, R. (2001). Discussion Paper on intercultural dialogue and education. UNU – United Nations University Accessed on-line on September 2, 2009 at http://www.unu.edu/dialogue/papers/evanoff-s5.pdf.

Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, retrieved on June 2, 2009 at http://www.uni-koeln.de/hf/konstrukt/didaktik/situierteslernen/ fenwick1.pdf.

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural. Communication Studies IV:1 1-24. Retrieved on Dec. 2, 2008 at http://www.trinity.edu/org/ics/ ICS%20Issues/04%20ICS%20IV%201/Microsoft%20Word %20-%20p%20%201%20%20Y.%20Y.pdf.

Martin, J., & Nakayama, T. K. (1999). Thinking dialectically about culture and communication. Communication Theory, 9, 1-25.

Matoba, K. (2003). Glocal Dialogue Transformation through Transcultural

Communication. Paper presented at ENGIME Workshop: Communication Across Cultures in Multicultural Cities 7-8 November 2002, The Hague. Retrieved on Dec.28, 2009 at http://www.idm-diversity.org/files/infothek_matoba_glocaldialogue.pdf

Roth, W-M. (2003). Culture and Identity. Review Essay: Ayan Kaya (2001). “Sicher in Kreuzberg” Constructing Diasporas: Turkish Hip-Hop Youth in Berlin / Carl Ratner (2002). Cultural Psychology: Theory and Method [94 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(1), Art. 20, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0301204.

Saint-Jacques, B. (2011). Worldview in Intercultural Communication: A Religio-Cosmological Approach. In L. Samovar, R. Porter, E. McDaniel, (Eds.), Intercultural Communication.  A Reader (pp. 45-56). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Vallazza, O. (2010). Processes of nurturing and maintenance of multicultural identity in the 21st century. A qualitative study of the experience of long-term transcultural sojourners. Master thesis. Linköping University, Sweden (91 pages) Available at Linköping University press: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-59533

Wilhelmson, L. (2002). On the Theory of Transformative Learning. In Bron, A. & Schemmann, M. Bochum (Eds.), Social science theories in adult education research (180-210) Studies in international adult education, v. 3. Muenster: Lit Verlag.

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UR – Designing Intercultural Research

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Designing the Research Proposal

TOPICS: explore your research interest

Step 3 – Part 2

Keywords: intercultural communication, Intercultural research, interviewing by e-mail, culture, reflexivity

Link to forum

Link to blog

CONSIDERATIONS ON DOING RESEARCH WITH AN INTERCULTURAL COMPONENT

Article review

Aneas, María Assumpta & Sandín, María Paz (2009). Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication Research: Some Reflections about Culture and Qualitative Methods [57 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901519 Accessed on Dec.10, 2009 at http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1251

During the break I found this interesting article that addresses specific issues emerging in research with an intercultural slant. Considering that in the ALGC we are all one way or another going to deal with the intercultural dimension of our experience and of our relevant research project, I thought of sharing some reflections on this very issue.

What follows are my considerations. I posted them here not as a topic for discussion, but merely to share them.

Quotes are shown indented.

Content of the information being gathered (INTERVIEWING)

BHAWUK and TRIANDIS (1996, p.29) offer an interesting collection of insights and recommendations when it comes to the content of interviews. Interviewing is one of the fundamental techniques used in qualitative research on cross-cultural and intercultural communication. One of the principal concerns when conducting an interview is whether an emic or an etic approach is more appropriate—that is, whether to ask different, tailor-made and culture-specific questions or ask the same questions in all the cultural contexts being studied.

my comments:

My research won’t be about discussing, exploring, analyzing the participants’ host or original cultures; in that sense it does not take an emic approach. My research will explore the experience of the participants and the extent to which they may share similar views and experiences of processes of adaptation and intercultural competence building. In a sense, my research has an emic nature, in that it attempts an in-depth exploration of one specific culture, the culture that informs a transnational personhood/identity.

Doing semi-structured interviews through e-mail prevents the interviewer’s culturally-affected reactions to influence the respondents. See BHAWUK and TRIANDIS (1996, p.28) I believe this method has advantages that will be beneficial to my research. (see this article for more on this method).

It will also diminish opportunities for the emergence of intercultural anxiety provoked by the uncertainty typical of intercultural contexts, as defined by Gudykunst (1993) in his theory of Anxiety Uncertainty Management (AUM).

Language in the research process

In order to understand and interpret utterances or gestures in a given language, a minimum degree of language equivalence between the language of those being studied and that of the researcher is needed (LUSTIG & KOESTER, 1996; SAMOVAR, PORTER & STEFANI, 1998).

my comments:

Utterances or gestures in my e-mail interviews  will be automatically disregarded.

Language issues will be partly sidestepped by using English as the language of the research, and selecting participants who have a certain degree of fluency in English. Though this choice may introduce a level of bias, it will facilitate both the collection and the analysis of the narratives, based on the assumption that – to a large extent – the respondents share an equivalency in the meaning of the vocabulary they use.

Nevertheless, I will need to be mindful of this assumption.

Culture, analysis and interpretation in qualitative research

Mental schemas

In this same sense, according ERICKSON (1989), the base for theoretical constructions is the immediate and local meanings of action as defined from the point of view of the social actors involved. In other words, we interpret a reality, a given piece of information according to the parameters of our experience in which our culture occupies a fundamental position. Culture is the reason why a given phenomenon, a specific form of behavior can be given a very different meaning according to the origin culture of the person analyzing and interpreting the process. [47]

Mental schemas constitute a cognitive system which enables us to interpret the gestures, utterances and actions of others. Culture influences the organization of the schemas developed by individuals with the justification that different visions and interpretations of reality are culturally variable. In the same sense constructionism stresses the importance of socio-cultural background in the higher order psychological processes (VYGOTSKY, 1979) as an argument with which to demonstrate the union of culture with cognitive processes and the relation between learning, development and the contexts of personal relations.

Summing up, theories of categorization and social attribution facilitate the development of explanations concerning the perception and interpretation of the behavior of others in intercultural contexts.

Language and mental maps are cultural elements with which the researcher operates in the analysis and the construction of results.

Conclusions

The fallacy of the monolithic view of identity alerts us to the need for prudence and the importance of avoiding categorizing cultural studies of communication in stereotypical terms, as built on folklore beliefs and essentialist in terms of culture.

On the other hand, it is already widely accepted in qualitative research that the researcher becomes the “principal information gathering instrument,” and thus some of the objectives which have been identified for studies of cross-cultural and intercultural communication are associated with the reflexivity of the researcher (my note: see Bryman, p. 682) over her or his own cultural biases together with the associated theoretical, and even social and political standpoints.

For the outlook of researching cross-cultural and intercultural communication we would stress that

  • Culture is a “system” and not the sum of a collection of fortuitous traits
  • It is an integrated whole which cannot be understood by examining its components individually and in isolation.
  • It is a dynamic whole which is in flux, and constantly changing, and which reveals itself as being in interaction with the world in a multiplicity of complex and diverse situations and contexts.

REFERENCES

Bampton, R. & Cowton, C.J. (2002). The E-Interview [27 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(2), Art. 9, Retrieve on Dec. 19, 2009 at http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs020295

Bhawuk,D. & Triandis, H. (1996). The role of culture theory in the study of culture and intercultural training. In Dan Landis & Richard W. Brislin (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural training (pp.17-34). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Erickson, Frederick (1989). Métodos cualitativos de investigación sobre la enseñanza. In Merlin Wittrock (Ed.), La investigación de la enseñanza, II. Métodos cualitativos y de observación (pp.195-301). Barcelona: Paidós/M.E.C.

Gudykunst, W. (1993). Toward a theory of effective interpersonal and intergroup communication. In Richard L. Wiseman & Jolene Koester (Eds.), Intercultural communication competence (pp.33-71). London: Sage.

Lustig, M. & Koester, J. (1996). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. New York: Harper Collins.

Vygotsky, L. (1979). El desarrollo de los procesos psicológicos superiores. Barcelona: Crítica.

UR – Grounded Theory, Context, and Enactivism

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Elaborating the logics of research approaches

TOPICS: Research, ontology, epistemology

Step 2 – Part 1

Keywords: context, grounded theory, enactivism

Link to blog

Link to forum

CONTEXT

Throughout our program issues of context have been prominently presented and discussed. I realize that also plays a role in research. With regard to the two main research strategies, quantitative and qualitative, my current understanding of context is as follows. Researchers in both approaches claim giving context their full attention, however, in two very distinct and almost antithetic ways. In quantitative research the context is the “here and now” reality of the relevant research environment, where variables are measured according to an objectivist ontological perspective that views phenomena as external events “beyond our reach of influence.” (Bryman, p. 18) In qualitative research, instead, context seems to include a variety of factors that, according to constructivism, definitely influence the observed phenomena. This simplified distinction makes me think that whenever we talk about context, we may be referring to two very different concepts that would be better understood by using different words.

Clearly, the contextual scope in qualitative research is much broader than the selected, controlled environment in a quantitative design. In my view, it is exactly the context of a certain phenomenon that qualitative researchers are after. Therefore, the context (and related processes) of a given case scenario is not only the framework within which researchers develop their strategy for data collection and analysis; it is also the object of their investigation. Given the relevance of context in both research strategies, I find it strange that Bryman’s book does not include any relevant entry in either the glossary or the index.

An example of the importance of context in qualitative research is Grounded Theory (see Bryman, pag 541). Although I have not completed the readings, I believe that this particular kind of approach includes a broad context for the study of all interacting factors, actors and even observers. When considering these issues, I remembered our discussion in a previous course. Back then we were examining different approaches to experiential learning and the roles of observation and participation. Fenwick (2001) provided the following definition of context, which I find very relevant to my comments in this post. I believe that Fenwick’s definition helps understand how learning is influenced by our environment, but also how a qualitative education research needs to be mindful of a very broad and inclusive context:

Context involves the social relations and political-cultural dimensions of the community in which the individual is caught up, the nature of the task, the web of joint actions in which the individual’s choices and behaviors are enmeshed, the vocabulary and cultural beliefs through which the individual makes meaning of the whole situation, and the historical, temporal, and spatial location of the situation. (Fenwick, 2001, p. 20)

Going back to my previous mention of Grounded Theory, it seems to me that context defines the background against which identities play out, but it can also become indistinguishable from the actors. In a process of ongoing negotiation and reframing, context is simply a reality that is constantly transforming itself. Grounded Theory researchers persistently re-evaluate their findings, which reminds me a lot of the enactivist/ecological perspective as discussed in Fenwick (2001):

The enactivist perspective insists that learning cannot be understood except in terms of co-emergence: each participant’s understandings are entwined with those of other participants, and individual knowledge co-emerges with collective knowledge. Educational theory also must examine the subtle particularities of “context” created through the learning of complex systems, embedded in their constantly shifting interactional dynamics, and the relations among these particularities. Educators need to become alert to a “complexified awareness…of how one [individual] exists simultaneously in and across these levels, and of how part and whole co-emerge and co-specify one another.  (Davis and Sumara 1997, p. 120)

When it comes to education research, it seems to me that we – in our multiple roles of educators, researchers, and learners – would move between different degrees of participation and observation to gain a deeper understanding of the context, whether that be for our research or for our engagement in our professional practices.

Would it be correct to say that Grounded Theory follows an enactivist/ecological approach to the understanding of context e to the emergence of theory?

REFERENCES:

Bryman, A. (2008). Social Research methods (3rd ed). Oxford; Oxford university press

Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, accessed on June 2, 2009 at http://www.uni-koeln.de/hf/konstrukt/didaktik/situierteslernen/fenwick1.pdf

Reply to Garnet: George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research

GARNET WROTE: Aside from the terminology, what do you think of Human Capital theory as away to measure economic returns to education and training? Is there another way to measure these economic returns? What would that look like?

COURSE: WORK AND LEARNING

FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning

TOPICS: G. LANGELETT, HUMAN CAPITAL, SKILL FORMATION, QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Reply to Garnet: George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research (link to Itslearning)

Hi Garnet,

Thank you for your post. I find it very thought-provoking. I still believe though that HC theory offers a linear approach that does not have the necessary scope for dealing with much broader issues than just economic ones. Nevertheless, I understand that HC theory is based on economics, and I will consider its implications from that perspective. The questions you are asking are important, and I will consider them closely, as I also believe that, from a strictly economic perspective, Langelett’s article offers a way to address the questions you raised with regard to the financial/economic returns to education and training. To me it is a typical quantitative approach to measuring the several parameters that define a person’s and a country’s economic standards. As such, it does not necessarily measure issues of “quality,” which are difficult to quantify. Therefore if we assume that the laws of economics are accurate, then we can use them to try and measure returns to education by employing appropriate mathematic models. From what I read, it seems that such models have made it possible to calculate such returns with a certain degree of accuracy, due in part to the exclusion of qualitative variables.

How could such calculations be made more accurate? If we assume that the monetary evaluation of returns to education resulting from HC models were indicative of a successful investment, then it would be interesting to measure that index against qualitative parameters that were not initially included. Let me try with an example. If someone has a decent income, owns a house and a car (items that are quantitatively measurable), that person may be ranking high in returns to education, compared to someone with a lower income and no properties. However, would that person’s standards still be considered successful if we were to include the negative impact of issues that may be directly linked to that person professional situation, such as commuting time, unsatisfactory working environment, lack of access to cultural venues, low sense of community (suburban sprawl), and environmental issues (pollution, noise, etc). I believe that such inclusion would increase the accuracy of current HC measurements. Granted, it would require resources and time to carry out the relevant qualitative research. The results, however, may end up shifting the emphasis of HC equations towards currently disregarded aspects. Such shift could have a transformational impact on how education, work, income, well-being, health, self-actualization and more are ranked in our societies.

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